First off, we want you to know that we think Houston has a killer restaurant scene. We have some truly top-notch eateries in this town, and we're damn proud of them.
That said, everyone messes up from time to time. Chefs, waiters and restaurateurs all do stupid things. And we totally forgive them, but that doesn't mean we aren't going to call them on it. So we did a quick survey of our Houston Press food writers and came up with these gut reactions.
Think of this article as a public service. It's a means of inciting a discussion about what really chaps our asses (and your asses) about the Houston restaurant scene. And maybe, if we're lucky, our combined forces can help bring an end to the likes of bonito flakes and margarita flavoring.
One can only hope.
Sure, a beautifully designed plate of food is fun, but not if it comes at the cost of losing the quality of flavor in the dish. Today's chefs seem to be focusing more on the plating and presentation than on the quality and taste of the dish. More often than not, the best dishes are the simple ones, without frou-frou sauces spread across the plate like a painting. Focus on the taste more than the presentation; the quality of food is becoming less important than its appearance. MOLLY DUNN
Look, if a burger is good enough, it doesn't need a bunch of bells and whistles to make it delicious. Enough with the avant garde peanut butter and jelly burgers or lobster and foie gras-topped creations (offenders, you know who you are). Don't put a Frito pie on top of my burger and call it a burger. You just invented something else entirely. Good for you. Now make me a burger. Just give me a hunk of juicy, high-quality beef; a toasted bun; lettuce and tomatoes; and some killer pickles. If you must, add some bacon or cheese. But THAT'S IT. Let the good ingredients do the talking instead of masking them with grilled fruit or chips I can get out of a vending machine. KAITLIN STEINBERG
Overly Large Portion Sizes
There used to be a restaurant called Tejas on San Felipe. When I was in college, some family friends took me there, and I ordered the chicken-fried steak. When it came out, the dish boasted two large, piled-on-top-of-each-other, at-least-16-ounces chicken-fried patties. The mound of mashed potatoes that came with them was enough to feed four or more, and my friends stared at me aghast, asking, "You're going to eat all that?" The single portion was enough to feed six, maybe even more. While Tejas isn't there anymore (in its place is Yia Yia Mary's), it irks me when I order a half portion of pasta and get enough to feed three. That gourmet burger piled high with a thousand accoutrements looks scary to me instead of mouthwatering, and the fact that Houstonians demand — and get — 16-ounce steaks (do we need to eat that much, really?) is disturbing when the protein serving size recommended by nutritionists is three ounces. Our state may be big, but our waistlines and our portions don't need to be. MAI PHAM
When I go out to eat, I like to take my time. I'm paying to enjoy food at a restaurant, so I don't want to feel like I have 30 minutes to order, eat and pay the check. Just about every restaurant I have eaten at asks me what I want to drink before I even have a drink menu in front of me — sometimes the second I sit down. At least give me some time to look over the menu before you pull out your pencil to write down my drink order. If you're going to do that, I'm just going to order water and you're not going to make any money off me from ordering a drink. Not only am I rushed to order drinks, but even if I say there's no rush on the food and that I would like each course to come out separately, either everything arrives at the same time or the second one plate is cleared, there's another one sitting in front of me. If I wanted fast food, I would go through the drive-through. Waiters need to respect diners' time a bit more, especially if they say there is no rush. MOLLY DUNN
The Bonito Crutch
Bonito is a type of tuna that is flaked after drying. It's a critical ingredient of dashi, a clear stock that is a building block of Japanese cuisine. For the past several months, though, bonito flakes have been showing up all over the place...on top of roasted peppers, custards and soups, among other things. I'm waiting for someone to try and pass them off as a sundae topping. The popularity of bonito flakes is understandable. They're easy to use: Just grab some out of a bag and sprinkle them on top. Anyone can do it. Bonito flakes add umami and texture and do a wiggly little dance on top of hot things as they melt. (Depending on one's opinion of food that moves under its own power, that's either fun or disturbing.) However, it seems that they've become a crutch used at the expense of actual creativity. Are there no other ideas on how to add umami and saltiness to a dish? Bonito has become the new bacon, which leads me to ask, "What's wrong with the old bacon?" I'm hoping to see some other inventive, savory garnishes in the future. PHAEDRA COOK